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World Lung Cancer Day on August 1 served as a stark reminder of the devastating impact that lung cancer has on millions of lives worldwide. It was a day to reinforce the global resolve to combat this formidable disease, but it also exposed a troubling paradox. Just as efforts were being made to raise awareness and find solutions to combat lung cancer, some misguided activists in Kenya were using the moment to advocate for tighter restrictions on nicotine products that offer smokers their best chance of avoiding the disease.
Now misinformation about alternative nicotine products, such as vapes and nicotine pouches, also threatens to result in unnecessary premature deaths. Fortunately, by acknowledging the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows the lifesaving potential of these products, we can make informed decisions to shape a healthier future for those adults who wish to quit smoking. Much of the misperception problem in Kenya lies in conflating tobacco and nicotine. Far too many people regard them as one and the same. Yet reputable scientists widely acknowledge that most of the harm associated with conventional cigarettes is caused by the toxicants in the smoke produced by the burning of tobacco. [...]
BAT Kenya has pegged local production at its Sh1.5 billion oral nicotine pouches factory on “less stringent” regulatory and taxation framework for the new category products.
Managing director Crispin Achola says an investment of a further Sh1 billion for testing of the plant, marketing and distribution of the nicotine pouches depends on authorities providing a facilitative environment.
BAT Kenya imports the non-combustible nicotine products, under ‘Velo’ brand, from other countries, particularly South Africa, despite putting up the factory in Nairobi.
In less than 24 months, nicotine pouches are back on the Kenyan market after British American Tobacco (BAT), the biggest manufacturer in Kenya, lobbied government authorities for their reintroduction. Meanwhile, the tobacco manufacturer continues to push for the opening of its $2.5m nicotine manufacturing plant in Nairobi.
Confidential documents seen by The Africa Report show that BAT Kenya Plc imported ten tonnes of Velo – the new name for the nicotine pouches in Kenya, and the name given to the product in other countries – from South Africa in July 2022, and has already ordered additional supplies, which are expected to arrive in the country by the end of August.
This World No Tobacco Day, Kenya appears to be further than ever from reducing cigarette sales and smoking. Its decision not to have any smoking reduction plan or policy since 2015, is proving to be good news for the smoking industry. For, without it, the government’s cocktail of ignoring nicotine replacement therapies and banning tobacco alternatives is leading to a surge in cigarette sales, according to global market researchers, in an unexpected windfall for the country’s cigarette producers.
Proposed new taxes on e-cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products have attracted significant attention since their announcement in the national Budget speech.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani’s commitment to protect the health of citizens is to be commended. But there is concern among many in the public health community that his proposals to make tobacco harm reduction products less affordable will negatively affect efforts to cut Kenya’s stubbornly high smoking rates. Harm reduction is a concept that is widely accepted in the treatment of drug addiction, yet seems to receive less support in our country when applied to the treatment of smokers.
The 108 percent tax increase on nicotine pouches will deprive Kenyan smokers of their best chance to kick their deadly habit, the Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA) warns [...] In the Finance Bill, Treasury CS Ukur Yatani revealed plans to more than double the excise on tobacco-free nicotine pouches from Shs 1,200 to Shs 1,500 per kg. The average tax increase for excisable goods was 10 percent with nicotine pouches being the only product hit with a 108% increase.
“Prohibitive taxes on nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes are putting these safer options out of reach of millions of smokers who are desperate to quit,” says CASA chairman Joe Magero.
Two-thirds of Kenyans who smoke want to quit and use harm reduction products like nicotine pouches or vapes/e-cigarettes, that is according to research by Dr Michael Kariuki. In an interview with TUKO.co.ke, Dr Kariuki stated that he was interested in the area because he has been a medical practitioner for over 15 years and has seen the struggle. He explained that the rate of smoking has gone down in the recent past compared to 10 years ago because of spirited campaigns against smoking.
Tobacco use is the topmost preventable cause of death in Kenya according to the Ministry of Health. [...] the government continues to take a quit or die approach to tobacco control. Kenya urgently needs to shift its focus away from this and embrace a harm reduction mindset. However, we remain very far from this and it threatens hundreds if not thousands of lives. [...] Dr Kgosi Letlape, a doctor and AHRA President noted, most of the harm caused by cigarettes is from the burning of tobacco. If smokers switch to alternative products which don’t contain tobacco, you instantaneously reduce the harm and ultimately save lives.
Kenya’s obstructive stance on innovative tobacco-free oral nicotine products (ONDS) is denying thousands of smokers desperate to quit cigarettes an extraordinary opportunity to have informed choices and save lives.
That’s according to international medical experts who addressed the Africa Tobacco Harm Reduction Forum [...]
“By lagging behind the rest of the world in its stance on tobacco harm reduction (THR), the Kenyan
government is blocking the escape from tobacco-related disease and death for 30,000 smokers a year, with no chance of reprieve,” CASA Chairman Joseph Magero told the webinar.